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Brayden Point is Lightning’s human highlight reel

The star center has put on a show with his ability to maneuver time and space on his way to the net.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates after beating Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) for a goal during a Dec. 13 game at Amalie Arena.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) celebrates after beating Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) for a goal during a Dec. 13 game at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 13|Updated Jan. 14

ST. LOUIS — When a player has the combination of skill, speed and stick work that Lightning center Brayden Point possesses — as well as his resolve — they can morph a bad pass into a spectacular goal.

In the Lightning’s first game back from the holiday break two weeks ago against the Canadiens, Point took possession of the puck in the neutral zone and circled toward the opposing blue line. He pushed the puck past it, but linemates Nikita Kucherov and Brandon Hagel stayed back, trying to remain onside.

As Point realized his mistake, his teammates heard him yell a colorful four-letter word in frustration. But in an instant, he hit another mode. Reaching out to reclaim the puck while surrounded by four Montreal skaters, Point deked through them before tucking the puck under defenseman Joel Edmundson’s stick and back to his blade to set up a wrist shot he put past goaltender Jake Allen.

“I remember it as clear as day,” Hagel said. “He messed up the pass, and you heard him on the ice swear. And just that second effort, that work ethic, he went and got that puck back because he was so mad at himself for making that mistake, and it ended up back of the net. That just goes to show he’s not just going to give up when he makes a play he’s not happy with.”

Goals to make your jaw drop

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) scores a goal against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) in the first period on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) scores a goal against Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) in the first period on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The play might be one of the best examples of Point’s drive on the ice.

As the Lightning approach the midpoint of the regular season, Point, 26, is one of the league’s hottest scorers and on pace for a career year.

Entering Saturday’s game in St. Louis, he leads the team with 23 goals. He has 11 points, including seven goals, over his last nine games and has scored in 11 of his last 16 games. He leads the Lightning with six game-winning goals, third-most in the league.

Over the past month, he has provided three jaw-dropping goals.

Two weeks before his goal against the Canadiens, driven by home-ice boos for the Lightning’s top power-play unit, Point skated through three Kraken defenders as he entered the offensive zone and scored in a Dec. 13 win.

And in a New Year’s Eve win over the Coyotes at Amalie Arena, Point took a pass off his right foot and batted the puck out of midair into the net.

“These players come into the league and there’s some ultratalented guys,” coach Jon Cooper said. “But what sets them apart from each other? Like, why is one better than the other? To me, it’s determination, and ‘Pointer’ has that.

“He also has the ability to play the game at a high rate of speed and make plays at a high rate of speed. Nothing more than the one we saw (against) Arizona when he bats the puck in midair while he’s skating. That’s impressive stuff. He’s a determined kid.”

Planning his entries

Brayden Point (21) beats Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) for a goal during a Dec. 13 game in Tampa.
Brayden Point (21) beats Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) for a goal during a Dec. 13 game in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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All three goals came with Point entering the offensive zone with the puck.

On the goals against Seattle and Montreal, he picked up speed as he skated through the middle and took on defenders around him.

Against Arizona, he crossed the blue line on the right wing and passed to Kucherov. He then charged to the near post, where he took a pass from Kucherov before doing some fancy footwork.

“He works so hard, obviously, but he’s just so determined when he’s on the ice,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “The speed that he has, the edge work that he has, the skill that he has, putting it all together, he’s a tough player to stop.

“When he’s skating with the puck, he’s just unbelievable. You see it in practice, you see it in games, but he’s a very hard-working guy who hates to lose and does everything he can to for us to have success.”

Point has a mental checklist when he enters the offensive zone. He sizes up the players in front of him and the ice he has, and in an instant he decides whether he will be able to make a move that will get him a scoring opportunity.

“You find out in junior at the start that it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of time and space out there,” Point said. “But the more you play and the more you get comfortable, the more you start to learn the game, the more you understand that time and space. And I think it’s the same here.

“When you first come into the league, it seems so fast and you have no time, but the more you play and the more reps you get, the quicker you start to realize when you will have that time and when you can kind of start to recognize if you have that time and space. So I think it’s just that feeling of getting comfortable on the ice.”

Never satisfied

Brayden Point (21) scores a goal during a game against the Montral Canadiens Dec. 28 in Tampa.
Brayden Point (21) scores a goal during a game against the Montral Canadiens Dec. 28 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Point said it’s difficult to pinpoint why he is off to the best start of his seven-year career. But coming off a torn quadriceps that sidelined him through most of the 2022 playoffs, he said that having more time off before the start of the season might have helped.

“That’s such a longer break than what I was used to in the last couple of seasons, (so) maybe just that feeling of being fresh and excited,” Point said.

“Sometimes when you come off those quick breaks, it catches up to you a little bit because you don’t get that time to train and feel good for the season. Maybe because I got that longer break maybe just gives you that feeling of being rejuvenated.”

Point’s teammates laud his work ethic and know he’s never satisfied with his game. Having speed is one thing, and Point already possessed a rare ability to change gears. But he points to Oilers star Connor McDavid’s ability to put himself in a position to get the puck while he’s skating at high speed, and that’s an area he’s focusing on now. His goal against the Kraken is an example.

“There’s a lot of fast players in this league, but some of the best, it’s not only their speed,” Point said. “If anything, it’s understanding when and how to get speed.”

Said Hagel, “That’s a player being hard on himself and wanting to be the best he can possibly be. And I know all these guys know that he’s going to go through a wall for them.

“I think us in this dressing room know that he’s a guy that you can depend on and he’s going to give you 100% as much as he can. He works just as hard as he has skill.

“He works so hard to be a superstar in this league.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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